July 21, 2024
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July 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

At the bar mitzvah at TABC with Principal Rabbi Adler, also senior rabbi of Cong. Rinat Yisrael, addressing the group.

A bag of “goodies” for each child.

A kiss for a every happy (or not so happy) child.

On the way to the restaurant for lunch, Y. stopped in the middle of a street to show us the still-damaged road surface where a rocket had landed on a bus, completely demolishing it. The loaded bus had been driving on that road and when the driver heard the “Red Alert,” he stopped the bus, luckily right across the street from a bunker. The passengers all ran across the street with the driver, and when the last person had entered the bunker, the rocket hit the bus. No one was killed or even injured. Any question whose side Hashem is on?

Although the restaurant had about 12-15 tables, there was nobody there aside from us. The owner, who must be suffering financially, said it is typical, since residents stay at home as much as possible and tourists are rare.

After lunch we went to the Hesder Yeshiva of Sderot for Mincha. I was told it is the largest Hesder Yeshiva in Israel. Just a week before, they had opened a new rocket-proof Beit Midrash. It is the site of over 300 Torah students/soldiers sitting and learning in one big room, with pride and without fear, ready to serve their country when called upon.

From there we went to the kindergarten run by Sima Abukasis. We were received by 26 smiling (at least most of them) children waiving small Israeli flags and singing a song they had especially practiced for us. Sima and the staff presented my wife with a bouquet of beautiful flowers, and all of us with a bottle of wine and a tray of rolls, as a sign of welcome. There were also other refreshments that had been prepared for us.

As each child’s name was called out, a big bundle of the goodies that we had ordered prior to our coming, with the child’s name on it, was brought over to me where I was kneeling on the floor, and the child (not always willingly) came over for a hug and a kiss.

That ended the very trying and emotional, but beautiful, day on a happy note for all of us, seeing all the happy children (and their happy parents who came to pick them up).

May Hashem continue to spread his protection over the city and its neighbors, and give sustenance to their families. May Hashem grant only happiness in the future to the Abukasis family, and may He comfort them among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

We returned without incident to Jerusalem.


I had frankly never heard of JYEP, which stands for Jewish Youth Encounter Program, serving Bergen County youths third to seventh grade.

I do not recall how it came about, but one day in March 2015 it was brought to my attention by Dr. Deborah (Debby) Rapps, director of JYEP, that there was a boy in her group, just about to be a bar mitzvah, who did not have his own pair of tefillin to put on. I immediately offered to provide a pair for the young man and asked Debby to enable me to contact him.

I communicated with the mother of the young man and found out that he was a student in a local public school. The bar mitzvah was going to be at TABC (Torah Academy of Bergen County) since, under the Big Brother/Big Sister JYEP program, the “big brother” of the young man was a student at TABC.

Dorothy and I received an invitation to the bar mitzvah for a Thursday morning.

I met with the young man and his mother and they both were extremely moved and very appreciative of what I was doing. It was my understanding that financially it was very difficult for them to meet the higher expenses that would be entailed in having the young man go to a yeshiva. I offered to pay for the tuition for BCHSJS (Bergen High School of Jewish Studies), which is the school that they were interested in.

The family applied to the school in April and I arranged for a deposit check for $200 to be sent there immediately as well. I also asked the school to keep me informed and to let me know when the application had been accepted and the balance became due so that I could send an additional check.

It was not until after the summer, actually in October, that I heard from the mother again. She informed me by email that the young man had changed his mind and had decided not to go to a Hebrew high school this year.

As I write these lines, unfortunately nothing good has happened. The young man does not show any interest in anything Jewish. Do I regret what I have done for him? No, certainly not. No doubt he has the tefillin somewhere at home and maybe one day, as he matures, he will remember that he is a Jew and start acting as one.

(To be continued next week)

By Norbert Strauss

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